Our Schools, Our Kids, Our Future
Shame on Us . . . In a couple of my newsletters, I have written passionately about how we need to not focus on assessments but rather ensure that our students are getting a well-rounded education and that we are preparing them for the 21st Century. Not long ago, a fellow superintendent, Mary Ann Whitaker said “shame on us for exploiting our children to earn plaques and banners for our walls and schools”. That point of view really hit home...
I can remember how proud I was as a teacher that my students were always well above the 90th percentile on state assessments. Even more so as an administrator, getting that “Recognized” or “Exemplary” rating made me beam with pride. We had to make sure we had plaques on the wall or banners on the campuses demonstrating how well our students could test. Well ‘shame on me’ and ‘shame on us’ for using our children to earn those accolades based on a state mandated test!
For the last few years I have asked that teachers not reference the TAKS or STARR tests to motivate students to learn materials but I was not supporting what I said if I still was looking for those higher ratings. Additionally I have allowed endless worksheets and test preparation materials that will not prepare our students for the 21st century but rather train them to take more tests. Most importantly, these materials take the fun out of learning, do not allow students to own their learning, and do not give our students well-rounded educations.
The test has not disappeared, but rather as coined by many, “It is now on steroids!” We have evolved from the TAKS to the STAAR for 3rd through 8th grade and high school students have elevated to STAAR End-of Course exams (EOC). These tests were supposedly developed to measure basic skills as defined by our Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) that are to be taught to every Texas student. But they do not... Instead, they have been designed to measure college readiness for all students even though they are not considered as part of the college admissions process. Furthermore even with the more rigorous tests, businesses, colleges, and the community still report that students are neither ready to enter the workforce nor ready to complete a degree in higher education. Can our children take tests? Most of them, yes; but they are lacking in the soft skills, communication skills, technical skills, collaboration, critical thinking skills, creativity, work ethic, etc.
Even though these tests are not preparing our students for the 21st Century, the tests are being utilized to grade and rank school districts and campuses. This is a 20th Century type system. A school district can be designated low-performing or ‘Not Met Standard’ based on one small group of students within one grade level. All other groups or grade levels could perform exceedingly well and a campus and district can still be rated by one area or subgroup of students. Even though Palacios has always had high ratings, this does not represent all that our students are really learning at PISD.
I have allowed too much of my pride in our school district to be dictated by test scores. ‘Shame on me!’ I promise to campaign harder to ensure that we do not lower our expectations of students and staff, but the test will not drive our instruction. Staff will continue to ensure the TEKS are being taught even as they are revised and updated by the State and the focus will be on a quality education that readies students for the 21st Century. “Shame on us” if we think the exemplary teaching and programs provided by our staff can be measured by a state accountability system based on state assessments.
Even changing my point of view, I am extremely proud of PISD! Increased rigor, innovation, technical skills, creativity, communication, critical thinking skills and collaboration is transforming our classrooms into centers that promote students owning their learning rather than just learning to test well. Our staff in this district is constructing innovative, creative, engaging lessons. This is evident by the number of nominations for Superteacher. These nominations are only a small portion of what I have seen occurring in our classrooms each and every day. We are going beyond the worksheets and the ‘drill and kill’ lessons of the 20th Century toward lessons that develop life-long learners who are critical thinkers with collaboration and communication skills to be successful no matter what pathways are chosen after high school.